ST. CROIX — The phrase “The Effervescent Class of 2019” was repeated over and over again as 147 St. Croix Central High School seniors received their diplomas Wednesday morning.

The school’s gymnasium was electrified with loud cheers, thunderous applause, smiling faces and tears of joy as the graduates filed in to a rousing rendition of “Pomp & Circumstance” played by the St. Croix Central High School Jazz Band.

Acting Principal Yves Abraham opened the ceremony with warm welcomes and congratulations.

“Twelve years of training has brought you to the starting line,” Abraham said. “You’ve made it!”

He shared with the graduates that their diplomas were their tickets to the future and it was up to them to decide what is next.

Among the distinguished guests in attendance were Gov. Albert Bryan Jr., former Central High School Principal and acting Insular Superintendent Carlos McGregor, Education Commissioner designee Racquel Berry-Benjamin, and keynote speaker and Small Business Administration Inspector General Hannibal “Mike” Ware.

McGregor shared a touching story about graduate Haysely Durand Jr. Durand was on duty as a bagger at a local supermarket when McGregor stopped in shortly after he left Central to become acting insular superintendent. As Durand helped McGregor carry his bags to the car, he mentioned that they talked about how much they missed each other.

“As educators, we truly invest a lot in these kids and I shared with him that I had to make a choice when I decided to leave.”

Durand responded that “life is full of tough choices and we all have to do what we have to do.”

Durand was facing one of those choices and they spoke about his returning to Central to get his diploma.

Before parting at the supermarket, McGregor pulled out the largest bill in his wallet to give Durand a tip.

“While I know you were happy with that large tip, our conversation was the biggest tip you could have given to me and I thank you for that,” McGregor said to the new Central graduate Wednesday.

McGregor also acknowledged another student, Andy Pemberton. Like Durand, Pemberton stopped going to school and was working at Limetree Bay Terminals when he asked McGregor to return to school to complete his high school education.

Berry-Benjamin reminded students to be authentic and to never stop learning.

Gov. Albert Bryan told them to never forget Central.

“Continue to be contributors to CHS. This school invested in you so you must invest in it,” said Bryan as shared how proud he was of this year’s graduating class. “Look at the world and see all of the obstacles around you. Tackling these obstacles are opportunities for you to be successful.”

As keynote speaker, Ware offered the graduates his three keys to success: “Always believe in yourself, always have a positive mindset and hustle hard.”

Ware stressed the importance of not giving up.

“People will quit on you. Make sure you don’t quit on yourself,” Ware cautioned.

Salutatorian Giovane Barnes opened his speech with a warm welcome to all in attendance. Barnes touched on the challenges he faced when he migrated to St. Croix at a young age and spoke about what it was like to be different from those around him.

“Have no reservations about being different,” he said.

After thanking his parents for molding him into the young man he is today, Barnes closed his speech with these words: “Aim high and shoot for the stars. Your best efforts will take you far.”

Jayla Norman is no stranger to graduating with top honors. Before becoming Central valedictorian, she was named valedictorian for her elementary and junior high school graduating classes. As president of the National Honor Society at Central, Barnes lives by the code that “as long as you put your mind to something and you’re dedicated to it, you can accomplish it.”

She shared how she used what she had learned at Central to write her valedictorian speech. She remembered learning from her English teacher that the speech was not for her but for her audience.

“Realize that college might not be for you and that’s OK,” she said.

She followed this by touching on those students who decided to work within a trade and expressed that there are not enough people on island with these much-needed skills.

She urged her fellow graduates to genuinely learn new things, to follow their own path and to find their purpose.

“Without purpose, life is meaningless,” she said.

While she expressed her fears of stepping out into the real world, Norman reminded her fellow graduates to worry only about today and not the stresses of tomorrow. She closed her speech by thanking her parents for raising her to be academically strong and courageous.

Another milestone for this 2019 graduating class was having their first group of students inducted into NAF Academy of Finance. Through a series of business courses and in-class training, students secured paid internships where they put what they learned to use.

Shaheem Abraham, Oteemia Daniel, Antoine Harley and Wenzell Harris met all of the requirements necessary for the program and were nationally verified under the Academy of Finance, meaning they are college, career, and future ready.

Former Central graduating classes of were recognized as they celebrate milestone anniversaries. Classes of 1969, 1979, 1989, and 2009 were in attendance sporting red and white attire, the school’s colors. The Class of 1989 gave a donation to the 89th student in the 2019 graduating class and the class salutatorian; Class of 1979 awarded $2,500 scholarships to four graduating seniors and donated money to install a surround sound system in the school’s cafeteria to improve the sound quality and experience of assemblies that take place there; and the Class of 1969 offered donations and scholarships to valedictorian Norman and salutatorian Barnes.